UK-based stunt performer Olivia Jackson has won the latest stage in her long battle for damages following the life-changing injuries she sustained during the filming of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter in 2015.

The former model, accomplished Muay Thai fighter and motocross enthusiast was horrifically injured on set in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Unexpected rain caused film director Paul Anderson to abandon a planned fight scene, with Olivia instead standing in for actress Milla Jovovich in a dangerous and technically complex motorcycle stunt. A last-minute change to the stunt, which Olivia wasn’t aware of, nearly proved fatal and caused horrific, life-changing injuries.

While riding a motorcycle at a high speed, a crane-mounted camera operated from vehicle travelling in the opposite direction collided with Olivia.  The force of the blow was so intense that half her face was torn off, and she suffered multiple fractures, serious brain swelling and ruptured arteries in her arm and neck.  Olivia spent 17 days in a coma and her injuries were so severe that her left arm could not be saved and had to be amputated. She was also left with a painfully twisted spine, paralysis of the top left quarter of her body including her neck, a permanently dislocated shoulder, a severed thumb, punctured lungs and broken ribs.

Four years on from the horrific accident 38-year-old Olivia who lives in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, launched a legal fight in South African High Court for compensation for her injuries.  On 1st April 2020, the court ruled that the stunt was negligently planned and executed by the South African company operating the camera and filming vehicle.  The judgment also robustly dismissed the defendants’ allegations that Olivia’s motorbike riding was at fault.

Following the ruling, Olivia Jackson said:

“I miss my old face. I miss my old body. I miss my old life. At least I now finally have a court judgment that proves this stunt was badly planned and that it was not my fault.

“But it really hurts that I have to live with the aftermath of other people’s mistakes, when, aside from a short period of my hospitalisation in South Africa, none of the people who made those mistakes or profited from this film that made $312 million have actually supported me financially. It also astonishes me that they did not learn from the mistakes of my accident and the same team worked together only three years later filming Monster Hunters in 2018, due for release later this year.”

Olivia, married to British stunt performer and James Bond double Dave Grant, was newlywed when the accident took place.  She continues to undergo treatment and rehabilitation but still experiences constant pain and suffering.  Olivia’s biography, titled Olivia, written in conjunction with New York-based writer Shannon Nixon, is due to launch this year.

Olivia also has plans to release a documentary about her recovery journey in the future.

About the accident

The stuntwoman had been tasked to ride a motorbike at high speed at a camera mounted on a mechanical arm on a Mercedes SUV which would be driving straight towards her.  The camera was meant to raise up at the last minute over Olivia’s head as they drove towards each other at 115kph. But last-minute changes to the stunt, of which Olivia was unaware, proved critical. The most important of those was the decision to lift the camera a second later during the final run.  The second corresponded to nearly 32m, with the camera smashing into Olivia’s upper body and face.

The vehicle and the camera were operated by Gustav Marais and Roland Melville of Bickers Action South Africa. The stunt co-ordinator was Grant Hulley of Pyranha Stunts. Both companies had been engaged on the film by Davis Films/Impact Pictures, an independent production company.

It subsequently came to light that the liability insurance policy for the film taken out by the Davis Films/Impact Pictures for this Resident Evil film excluded cover for injury to the cast and key crew and that neither Bickers Action South Africa nor Pyranha Stunts had any insurance cover.

Davis Films/Impact Pictures (RE6), was a company created solely for this 6th film in the well-known Resident Evil series by Moonlighting Films. Moonlighting is a South African production service company with a record of servicing international film and TV projects. The Resident Evil film franchise is owned by Constantin Films AG, a German company.

Whilst Olivia Jackson was in hospital in a coma having critical surgery performed her family were visited by the film’s producer, Jeremy Bolt, and Genevieve Hofmeyr of Moonlighting Films. They confirmed that the film only had limited insurance cover but were recorded promising that they would look after Olivia and cover her life-long medical expenses.

The court judgment

The South African court judgment wholly exonerated Olivia with Mr Justice Davis concluding that the evidence from Gustav Marais and Roland Melville of Bickers Action SA was a clear attempt to blame Ms Jackson, deviated from their previous evidence and contradicted each other to the extent it was utterly unreliable. The Judge also found that Olivia, as a stunt performer, had not voluntarily assumed the risk of this accident. She was unaware that the director, Paul Anderson, had given the uninsured driver, Roland Melville, instructions to decrease the safety margin from the rehearsal run to the incident run in order to get a more exciting shot.

Following a preliminary trial of the South African High Court, it was held that this stunt accident would be treated as road traffic accident, even though it took place on a closed and abandoned road during filming. Consequently, the Road Accident Fund (RAF) of South Africa would be liable to compensate Oliva. The RAF indemnifies those responsible for the accident which means that Gustav Marais and Roland Melville will not be personally accountable or liable for their actions.

Due to the significant limitations of the RAF scheme, it will not come close to replacing Olivia’s lost career nor provide certainty for all her life-long disability related needs. A further trial in South Africa to assess the compensation payable to Oliva under the RAF scheme is likely to be two or more years off.  However, it has been widely reported that the RAF is insolvent, with debts of over 260 billion Rand at the time of their 2019 report and complaints about long delays in receiving payments.  So, if and when Olivia will actually receive compensation for her losses remains uncertain.

Ms Jackson is represented in the South African proceedings by Munro Flowers & Vermaak and Advocate J.J.Wessels SC. A further trial in South Africa to assess the compensation payable to Ms Jackson under the RAF scheme is likely to be two or more years off.

Julian Chamberlayne, a partner  in  our Head of International Injury team and global counsel for Olivia Jackson said:

“Action movies that require people to carry out dangerous stunts should always be very carefully planned and performed. They should also be backed by insurance that can meet the very significant life-long losses that could be incurred by any member of the cast and crew who is seriously injured.

“This judgment is an important recognition that stunt performers are not themselves inherently responsible, nor willing but disposable volunteers when something goes wrong. Like all workers they are owed a duty of care by those responsible for the safest possible performance of the stunt.”

The full judgment can  be viewed here